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Belarusian Opposition Leader Wins Sakharov Prize

Milinkevich served 15 days in jail for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration in April ( PRAGUE, October 26, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich has been awarded the Sakharov Prize, the European Union's top human rights award.

Milinkevich won the prize for his work organizing pro-democracy activists in Belarus.

He is in illustrious company. Past winners of the Sakharov Prize have been rights campaigners Nelson Mandela and Wei Jingsheng, and Czech leader Alexander Dubcek.

European Parliament President Josep Borrell announced the prize in Strasbourg today.

"I had the honor of receiving [Milinkevich] in January and conveying to him the support of the European Parliament -- to him personally, but also to all those who, like him, fight to promote democracy and the rule of law and respect for human rights in Belarus," Borrell said. "And it is for this reason that today, the Conference of Presidents has agreed to award him the 2006 Sakharov Prize, and we congratulate him for this."

MORE: Alyaksandr Milinkevich gave RFE/RL an extensive interview earlier this month.

Milinkevich experienced the rough hand of Belarus personally in April after he was imprisoned for 15 days for organizing an unsanctioned protest rally.

He took part in the Chornobyl Way rally on April 26. The march, ostensibly to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1986 nuclear disaster, was prevented from entering a central square in Minsk.

Speaking at the rally, Milinkevich said the opposition would remove Lukashenka from power within two years.

But achieving that goal through elections seems unlikely in Belarus's current climate.

The March Presidential Election

Milinkevich was the main opposition challenger to incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a March presidential election.

Official results gave Lukashenka, who won a third term in the poll, around 83 percent of the vote. Milinkevich took just 6 percent.

The vote was condemned by the European Union and the United States as fraudulent.

The Belarusian opposition complained of harassment and lacking access to state media in the election.

After the ballot, tens of the thousands of demonstrators flocked to Minsk's main square to protest against alleged election violations.

But hopes among protestors to create a colored revolution, like those seen in Georgia and Ukraine, were not realized. Within days, crowd numbers dwindled and riot police arrested more than 200 protesters encamped in Minsk's main square.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Belarus Service today, Milinkevich said the award would help democracy campaigners in Belarus.

"Of course, it is honorable and fortunate for a person [to receive the Sakharov Prize], but, absolutely sincerely, I do not take it as my personal award," Milinkevich said. "Because this award goes to thousands of people who demonstrated their courage and desire to fight for their dignity and for Belarus during the last [presidential] campaign this spring. And this [award] is the biggest moral support for Belarusian democratic forces."

From Professor To Activist

Before becoming a politician, Milinkevich was a professor of physics, working in Algeria and in his birthplace, Hrodna, in western Belarus.

Between 1990-96, he served as deputy mayor in Hrodna and was the president of a championship-winning soccer team.

He immersed himself in national politics in 2001, when he headed the presidential election campaign of Syamyon Domash. Domash later withdrew in favor of another candidate.

He was chosen in October 2005 by Belarus's National Congress of Democratic Forces as the united opposition forces' candidate to challenge Lukashenka in the 2006 election.

The Sakharov Prize is awarded annually to individuals and groups fighting against oppression, intolerance, and injustice.

It is named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and comes with a check for 50,000 euros ($63,000).

Milinkevich is expected to come to Strasbourg to receive the award during a formal plenary session of the European Parliament on December 13.

Minsk, March 25

Minsk, March 25

THE AUTHORITIES GET TOUGH: RFE/RL's Belarus Service filed these images from the police action against the March 25 demonstration in Minsk. Photographs by Maks Kapran.


Listen to the sounds of the demonstration:
Real Audio Windows Media
Real Audio Windows Media





THE COMPLETE PICTURE: Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.

COVERAGE IN BELARUSIAN: Click on the image to view RFE/RL's coverage of the election campaign in Belarusian and to listen to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.

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